• BC Battle Tested

    POSTED Oct 19, 2012
    One hears it constantly — like the word “dude” at a skate park:

    “That horse won easy last time,” a bettor will say. “It’s going to be doubly tough today.”

    Indeed. This notion that a dominant victory is a positive sign has a basis in fact (rare for a racetrack “truism”). Dr. William L. Quirin wrote about the impact of big wins in “Winning At The Races” back in 1979, when Seattle still had an NBA team and I watched it win the city’s one — and only — professional sports title. Where art thou “Downtown” Freddy Brown?

    But I digress.

    “Of particular significance, as far as impact values are concerned, is the margin of victory,” Quirin wrote. “Horses that won by three lengths or more were more successful in their next start than [last-race winners] as a whole.”

    Makes sense, right? I mean, if a horse was able to soundly defeat its foes last time, it stands to reason that the animal stands a decent shot to do it again today. Conversely, it would seem logical to conclude that the opposite is also true: if a horse wins narrowly, say by less than a length, it is a poor betting proposition next time out.

    Again, there is some statistical evidence to suggest that this is, in fact, the case. Here’s the problem, though, and it illustrates why a blanket approach to racing and racing statistics is doomed to failure: Missing in this “big win” equation is the class element.

    While it’s true that a horse that won its last race by three lengths or more is victorious more often next time than those that did not, when one dissects the statistics one discovers that the vast majority of those follow-up wins occur at the same class level or lower. When the horse is rising in class, the ROI is virtually identical (at least in the testing I did).

    Of course, this suggests that big winners are all too obvious to the betting public, which got me thinking: Given the less wagering-centric crowd that the Breeders’ Cup typically attracts, might one be able to exploit this fact at the windows? In other words, would one do better by taking a contrarian view of last-race winners and upgrading narrow victors, while downgrading those that won by large margins?

    If history is any guide, the answer appears to be “yes.” Since 2003, horses that won their last start by three lengths or more have accumulated the following stats:

    Races (horses): 72 (143)
    Winners (rate): 17 (23.6%)
    Return (ROI): $165.30 (-42.20%)

    Now take a peek at horses that won their final BC prep by less than a length:

    Races (horses): 85 (177)
    Winners (rate): 22 (25.9%)
    Return (ROI): $502.60 (+41.98%)

    Notice that although the race win percentage is about the same, there is a massive difference in ROI — making the point that Quirin’s easy winners are overbet.

    So, with that in mind, here are some (potential) horses to watch this year:

    (Click on image to enlarge)

    For more data like this, be sure to check out my 2012 Breeders' Cup Betting Guide. In addition to all kinds of unique stats and insightful articles, the Guide also contains past performances — with my pace figures and Win Factor Report fair odds for all the likely BC entrants.

    Frankel’s Swan Song

    By all accounts, Frankel’s race in the Champion Stakes at Ascot Racecourse on Saturday will be the final one of his brilliant career. To many, the horse named after reality TV star Bethenny Frankel — or was it Bethenny’s dad, the legendary trainer Bobby Frankel? — is the greatest thoroughbred of all time.

    “We could be looking at the best horse that ever lived,” said Nick Godfrey of the Racing Post. “I’ve never seen a horse do what he did.”

    Still, the Champion could be Frankel’s sternest test yet, as he faces the battle hardened Cirrus Des Aigles, who won the event last year. Even though he’s now six years old, Cirrus Des Aigle has been very impressive this year and his trainer, Corine Barande-Barbe, believes he may still be improving.

    “Every race he has run in, he always seems to take one step up and he always seems to look his best when he tries something new,” she said. “Last year he wasn't even a Group One winner before the Champion Stakes. He won and he showed that the better the field, the better he is.

    “Maybe he's still improving,” Barande-Barbe continued. “On Saturday, it could be the best in the world over a mile to middle distances against the best over 10 furlongs to a mile and a half.

    “Whatever happens, it will be a great experience and we will enjoy it,” the veteran conditioner concluded. “If he wins, I will be pleased, but I won't be surprised… I'm not scared of Frankel.”

    Nor am I. Given the odds, I think “Cirrus” might be a reasonable alternative to the favorite, who is sure to have additional money rained down upon him due to the fact that the Champion is his final race.

    (Click on image to enlarge)

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